After death, some stem cells remain alive for days

By becoming dormant, skeletal muscle stem cells can survive in a human body after a person dies, for a good 17 days after the fact. During that time, it turns out, they're still viable enough to be revived and then subdivide into workable cells, Fabrice Chretien of the Pasteur Institute in Paris and his colleagues have discovered. Their finding, published in the journal Nature Communications, could someday allow for patients to donate their stem cells, post-mortem, for use as a possible tissue rebuilding treatment.

Previously, these kind of stem cells were thought to survive for no more than a day or two, but the research team's data on the survival skills of human skeletal stem cells in a dead body explodes that notion. The same thing goes for mice: The researchers determined that these same kind of stem cells remain alive in rodents for about 16 days, the Daily Mail, Agence France Press, and others reported. Separately, they learned that bone marrow stem cells in mice survived for about four days after death and could still rebuild tissue in the wake of a bone marrow transplant.

The key to remaining viable: The skeletal stem cells slowed their metabolism until they became dormant, allowing them to conserve vital energy even as the body in which they are housed dies around them.

All of this is promising of course, but it could be years before the viability of stem cells harvested from dead individuals can be tested in human trials. The researchers themselves offer the disclaimer, noting that much more testing will be needed. But if it works, the researchers believe the method of harvesting stem cells from patients after they die (with their consent, of course) could help address shortages of tissues and stem cells harvested through more traditional means.

- here's the journal abstract
- read the Daily Mail story
- check out the AFP piece
- read additional coverage here